More and more Americans are getting back to travel and tourism as the worst of the pandemic shutdowns seems to be in the rearview mirror. That is good news for many businesses. But Scott Thuman reports from Florida, it’s bringing its own set of problems.
This has been the summer of the great getaway. Putting some distance between social distancing and lowering the boom on those zoom calls.
The beaches and bars of south Florida filled again. A welcome sight at the Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, hosting travelers since 1936.
Heiko Dobrikow: The leisure business has just returned in full force and then some.
Heiko Dobrikow is the hotel’s general manager.
Dobrikow: Word got out to the American citizens and ready to come to Florida —
Scott: And they came in droves.
Dobrikow: And they came in droves, starting with Christmas week. And it has just not stopped.
An estimated 31.7 million people visited Florida from the start of April to the end of June. 223% higher this year than the year before, and only 2.2% fewer than the same period in 2019 before the pandemic.
At Sergio's family restaurant, the lunch rush is in full swing and relying on its newest employee. This robot, the first in the state, less of a gimmick, more of a necessity, says CEO Carlos Gazitua.
Carlos Gazitua: A lot of restaurants down here in the state were closing one or two days because of the burnout of our employees. We saw them running around too much and we said, what if we had a robot that could bring the food out to them and they can spend more time with the customers?
Scott: You saved 20 miles of what, of your servers walking back and forth?
Gazitua: Just walking. Correct.
The robot is evidence of a problem that has bedeviled the restaurant and hospitality industry all year: not enough staff.
Scott: On the lack of employees right now, where are you at?
Gazitua: So, most of our restaurants, we're down 25-30% of our dining room that we're not able to be open. Even though we offer 401K’s, health care plans, our wages are going up, our back-order cooks at least start around $13, $14.
Keeping potential workers away: enhanced unemployment benefits that lasted well into 2021, challenges in finding child care, and some just felt let down when the pandemic first hit.
Dobrikow: Some of these employees went through the difficult time of losing their jobs and being furloughed. They may have had a sour taste in their mouth, on the industry. And they decided, let me try something else.
The pitch at job fairs, like this one, is that wages are rising, perks too, and now is a good time to start serving again.
Because despite a resurgent pandemic, leaders in the Sunshine State say they’re open and plan to stay that way.
For Full Measure, I’m Scott Thuman in Florida.